Boris Johnson has warned Conservative MPs angry at his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that “it’s about to get tougher”, as Rishi Sunak told them there will not be “a horror show of tax rises with no end in sight”.
The Prime Minister and his Chancellor sought to placate the new intake of Tories on Wednesday amid disquiet over a series of Government U-turns and concerns that future high taxes could be among the unpopular choices needed for the recovery.
Both warned there will have to be difficult actions in the short term after a period of unprecedented spending but said their party would be able to overcome them.
Mr Johnson acknowledged “it’s been tough” to the MPs, many of whom entered Parliament in the last election by seizing former Labour strongholds and are said to be “jittery” after a string of U-turns that included the exams fiasco.
“I’ve got to warn you it’s about to get tougher. The waters are about to get choppier. But we are going to deal with it,” he said in a speech in Parliament.
“And when we build back better and faster and greener we will create a platform for the dynamism and innovation and enterprise to flourish and to create new jobs.”
Mr Sunak warned the MPs that the Government cannot “simply borrow our way out of any hole”, with his plan to rescue the nation’s finances unclear.
There has been speculation that corporation tax could be raised, capital gains tax increased, pension tax relief cut or aid spending reduced. Each move would be controversial within wings of the party.
He told the MPs: “We will need to do some difficult things, but I promise you, if we trust one another we will be able to overcome the short-term challenges.
“Now this doesn’t mean a horror show of tax rises with no end in sight. But it does mean treating the British people with respect, being honest with them about the challenges we face, and showing them how we plan to correct our public finances and give our country the dynamic, low-tax economy we all want to see.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is also opposed to tax rises at this time, instead calling on ministers to get the economy growing again.
His spokesman said: “With the health crisis still not under control, and it’s been the deepest economic crisis we’ve faced in generations, this is absolutely the wrong time to be talking about tax rises.”
Mr Johnson also gave a hint as to how the Tories might try to secure popularity with the electorate after controversies including over whether Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory will be sung on the BBC’s The Last Night of the Proms.
He told the MPs the nation “is going through an orgy of national embarrassment about some of the things that other people around the world love most about us”.
But he said: “It’s absolutely absurd and I think we should speak out loud and proud for the UK and our history.”